Monday, July 25, 2011

burnout and healing

A lot has happened since I last updated the blog, and I'm not sure where to start. So I'll just start spewing stuff and then I might edit it, but I doubt it - I generally don't have a whole lot of time for tweaking and polishing my writing here.

We have moved from our rural setting back to the suburbs. In fact, we are back to the same suburbs from whence we came. Moving was our idea, not the church's, though the bishop and others did make it happen. We are back in familiar territory and are loving most of it. Our children are adjusting fairly well to the move, though our 8 year old seems to be a little stressed out by all the changes. Our younger two children (5th and 3rd grade) have started at the year-round elementary school that we can walk to - in fact, we can see it from the driveway of our new home. Our oldest(8th grade) will go to a traditional calandar middle school in August, provided that we get around to registering him. I am able to drive into the office instead of working remotely from libraries and coffee shops, which has been wonderful - I never thought I'd say that about going to an office building. And the pastor is adjusting too, though she has given up much career-wise for her family.

So how did all this happen? Well, there's a lot behind it all, but I will focus mainly on our family situation and not the politics of congregation/denomination. To be brief, I think we were burning out in my wife's previous appointment. When we sold our house, picked up our family and moved out to a small town, we had many choices to make. Do we live in the parsonage or buy our own home? Do we put the kids in the struggling public schools or to drive them a long way to a very good private school? We made decisions the best we could, with the overriding goal of being faithful to our calling as a pastor's family. If we had to do it over again, I am still not sure if we would do anything differently. If our main goal was to maximize our financial situation, we certainly would have made different choices(like not going into ministry at all). We assumed we would be in that place for several years, like at least 5 years. But it was not to be. I must say that life was a grind for the two years we were there. Between shuttling the children to and from school and the other demands on both the pastor and me, we hardly had time to rest. My weekends were practically non-existent, since Sunday is a work day for her and it turned into one for me as well. For a small church, there was a LOT of activity. I would guess that my wife worked about 80 hours in a typical week there. Since I have a full time job too, that meant that much of the household duties slipped through the cracks. We gave up cleaning the house. Our top priorities became making sure we had food (most of it unhealthy convenience food) and clean laundry. There was no time for exercise or for rest. And while no one said it explicitly, that type of life seemed to be the expectation from many folks at the church. One parishioner even said (to someone else) that a pastor should "die to self and live for the church." Well, ok - I'm all for dying to self - but living for Christ. And that type of living does not mean being burnt out trying to satisfy every whim of every member of the church.

So here we are, back "at home," living much the same way we did before "going out." A couple things surprised me about the whole process. One is that I found myself very sad at first when we got news that we'd be leaving. A large part of that I think is just sadness about leaving people that I had come to care about. There are some wonderful people there, and I was sad to think of not seeing them anymore. But a significant part of that may have also been a feeling of failure - that things did not work out. This leads to some introspection and analysis, some of which is fruitful, but some of it becomes "if only" thinking. If only we had done this or that differently, maybe things would have been better. I think if I do that too much, it quickly becomes wallowing and doesn't serve any good purpose. Now that I have a couple months of space to reflect on it, I think that place was just not a good fit for us. I hope and pray for the success of that church and their new pastor - in many ways, I think he's probably a better fit for them.

So now what? Well, the pastor is now in a part-time position at our old church where we were members when she was called to seminary. It is a place we know well, with people we know well, but with a different senior pastor and slightly different staff than before. There are over 3000 members at this church, so much is different. And yet, much is the same, because as I've said in other posts, every church has some level of dysfunction, and struggles of power and control are everywhere. I am concerned for my wife as she takes a big career hit to be an under-the-radar part-time pastor instead of THE pastor. It's hard on her ego and hard on our bank account, but I think overall better for our family. There will be new adventures for us, I'm sure. One great benefit is working alongside other pastors. Her staff before consisted of one part-time secretary. She's a sweet lady, but it's not the same as having peers who understand more fully what you're dealing with.

I am usually very careful about crediting God for the changes that occur in my life. It's not that I don't think God is working on our behalf. I suppose I think more of God walking beside us on the journey, regardless of who or what "causes" the different twists and turns of our path. But in this case, where we have arrived at a place that should be more healthy for our family, I can see God working through the system to bring us home. And while I do still miss some folks at our old place, I am thankful to be here.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The middle

I have been trying to make the time to post over the last few weeks. We had some ice and snow and were all snowed in for a few days, but since I work from home, it still seemed somewhat hectic and I never got around to blogging.

So here goes probably my third attempt of 2011. We'll see if I get around to posting it.

I am a fan of The Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde's band which put out three really solid albums in the 80's. And since I am also a fan on facebook, I occasionally see things that the Pretenders' fan page puts up. This weekend, they posted a link to their great song, "Show me," and memories of listening to them when I was in high school came flooding back. It prompted me to look up a bunch of their videos on YouTube. Wow, they were amazing live. One of their songs, from "Learning to Crawl" (which I probably wore out on the turntable) spoke to me - "Middle of the Road". Here are the lyrics:

I think it's brilliant. So many ways I feel like I'm in the middle. I'm in my 40's with kids - sorta the midpoint of life, and I can identify with having "my plans behind me," even if I'm not a big planner. I try to take a "middle road" in so many things - I don't want to be an extremist, I want to treat people of all stripes with grace and mercy. It's hard even to find the energy to take a stand verbally/in conversation, much less be an activist for an important cause.

But sometimes, you have to take a stand, at least in conversation if not with further action - "you see the darndest things" - people using others, trampling the weak and needy. The line that hits me in the face - "when you own a big chunk of the bloody third world, the babies just come with the scenery." Wow. I am afraid that I do own a big chunk of the bloody third world. I believe in systemic sin and my culpability in it. Not everyone does, but I just can't get past it. Maybe it's my bleeding heart, my naivete, my gullibility. But I am in so much comfort and my country is so wealthy. And we want to keep things that way, of course. But how do we do that and sleep at night when the very economies that support our wealth and comfort do so at the expense of vast swaths of humanity? I am under no illusions that I know all there is to know about economics and politics. But I do believe that our thirst for oil and economic prosperity results in all sorts of ethical compromises that hurt millions of people all over the world. Lord have mercy.

Don't get me wrong. I love my country and the ideals that we're always trumpeting, even if we don't live up to them very well. I don't "blame America first" as talk radio blowhards like to say. I do blame humanity first, though. We are not "basically good." We are basically fallen. Basically selfish. Basically want to be God ourselves. We want to do things our way, because we know best.

I want to trust God completely. I don't. But I want to. Lord help my unbelief. Lord help me let go of the things I cling to so tightly for security - my money, my job, my family, my marriage. Help me trust that those things are your gifts for me to enjoy, but not to worship.